By Nicholas Bourgeois, M.A., R.P.A., Archeologist, Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site
In 2005, researcher Antony Cherian interviewed Thomas C. Hendricks, whose ancestors were enslaved workers at Levi Jordan Plantation, as part of an oral history program documenting the plantation and its relationship to the community.
At the time of the interview, Hendricks had lived in Sweeny, Texas, for about 53 years with his wife Sadie Hendricks. It was in Sweeny where they raised their family of two daughters and two sons. Mr. Hendricks was born in 1928 and grew up on his father’s farm, located about 2 miles south of the Churchill Bridge community in Brazoria County, near the St. Bernard River.
Hendricks helped his father raise turkeys, chickens, hogs, cattle, corn, cotton, and sorghum in addition to several other vegetables. In 1946, Hendricks turned 18, joined the United States Army, and became a quartermaster.
After serving in the Army, Hendricks went to school and performed business administration work in Houston before returning to Brazoria County at the age of 24. It was around this time Hendricks met his future wife Sadie at an uncle’s birthday party.
Like many people in Brazoria County, Hendricks’ family has direct ties to the Levi Jordan Plantation and the surrounding communities.
“…That’s where they came from, the Levi Jordan Plantation, 90% of them did… He [Doc Hendricks, Thomas’ great uncle] lived on the plantation and he come from the plantation. I think that’s how our history started from the Levi Jordan Plantation. He wasn’t the only Hendricks, some more Hendricks is in there too.”
His grandfather was enslaved at the Levi Jordan Plantation and was a founding member of the Jerusalem Baptist Church. Hendricks proudly states that he is a third-generation member of the Jerusalem Baptist Church and that his family name is inscribed on the church’s cornerstone.
“I’m the third generation through that church. My grandfather, out of slavery, they came to that church and organized it, then my father was a member there. Now I am a member there.”
Hendricks’ grandfather, along with his great uncle, Doc Hendricks, were sharecroppers and made a living from the system of farming that replaced slave-based agriculture after emancipation.
“Yeah, my father worked. We had our own place, but he would sharecrop, you know, with joining properties owned by other people. So my father he would sharecrop. I know something about it because you had to give a certain percentage of what you make to the owner and the rest goes to you. We had to give 1/3 and we took 2/3”.
As a young man, Hendricks also participated in the sharecropping. He would harvest pecans on the McNeill Ranch, a ranch near Levi Jordan Plantation that was owned by Jordan McNeill, a direct descendant of Levi Jordan. Hendricks would work for the sharecropper and receive one-quarter of the day’s harvest. The sharecropper would take the other quarter and Jordan McNeill would take half of the total harvested pecans.
“I would take it to market myself. We would share it out, we had pecks, bushels, or baskets. I guess a water bucket would hold so many gallons and that’s how we measured it out. Back then the pecans was about 10 cents a pound, so if you had a bushel of pecans you had at least about 30 pounds…3 dollars a bushel.”
Hendricks’ memories and family stories highlight a common relationship that exists between the plantations of Texas and African American families as they transitioned from being the workforce of a slave-based economy to the workforce of a sharecropping economy.